Shenandoah Ice Storm Clean up II

Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive near Thornton Gap, December 29, 2022 —  Could a wood chipper be a bird?  The name sounds like it might be.  In this case the yellow breasted wood chipper is a machine whose song sounds like it is loudly clearing its throat every time you stuff a chunk of wood into its famished gut.  Hearing protection required.

IMG_0009A dozen Hoodlums gathered Thursday to answer the park’s call for volunteer help.

We come organized teams, trained, equipped with organic leadership and experience following park safety protocols.  We require no supervision in most cases, but we’re used to working along side our park service counterparts.  It really doesn’t get better than that.

On Thursday, we divided into two teams, a small chainsaw team and the larger group to feed the chipper starting at Thornton Gap, headed north toward Beahms Gap.

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There’s more wood down than one would imagine.  It’s important to clear, not only the drive, but the road margins where seasonal mowers need to work.  In some places, that doubles the area requiring clean up.

It’s a slow, mind-numbing stoop labor dance done to the brrrrrrrt and rhythm of the wood chipper’s song.  Hey, somebody’s got to do it and it brings us together for another adventure.

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In some places the sun has melted the ice and snow while in those mostly shady areas, in spite of the higher temperatures the past couple of days, it’s going to be awhile before the ice and snow are gone.

It’s like a chain gang on an endless play loop – see stick, walk to stick, pick up stick, take stick to chipper, put stick into chipper, chipper burps thank you – played over and over.

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The park served us a warm lunch at the Pass Mountain overlook.  We could finally reminisce with our ear muffs off.  Then we were back at it.

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Team work as Wayne Limberg, AT District Manager, and Caroline Egli stuff the chipper.

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At one point the chipper broke.  My completely uninformed guess is a sheer pin.  Fortunately a spare was strategically located at Thornton Gap.  Unfortunately is was a less powerful model that seemed to regurgitate mulch rather than spray it.  While we were waiting we decided to dump some logs into the woods.

Looking at the large logs, I was thinking it was a good time to capture some video for this blog.  For the record, I rolled my share over the edge.  Note the sound of the frozen green log as it hits the icy pavement.

Not all logs are equal.

New chipper at work.  The flywheel takes a bit to recover energy.  The line looks like restroom queue.

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Shortly after 3 p.m., we called it a day.  The Hoodlums would be back in the morning.

Sisu

Shenandoah Ice Storm Clean up

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Shenandoah National Park, End of December, 2022 — The ice storm from a week ago made Skyline Drive look like a combat zone. Hundreds and hundreds of trees and branches are down along all 105 miles of road that meanders along the ridgeline that forms the backbone of the park’s geography.

Damage reports suggest that the north district from Front Royal to Swift Run Gap seems to have been hit the hardest.

The park leadership assessed the damage and asked qualified volunteers to join the clean up effort.  That request is a testament to the integration of PATC volunteers into park operations and the faith the park has in our ability to deliver value when we are asked to help.

It’s obvious from the photo that the clean up is a labor intensive effort.  Each one of those branches and tree trunks has to be removed from the roadway.  The roadsides also have to be cleared to the treeline so that mowers can operate in the growing season.  That is a lot of stoop labor.

Those of us who normally work on trails learned a lot about the process of cleaning up the “drive” after a storm.  Here’s a hint:  They use a lot of “big boy” toys – bucket trucks, graspers, chippers, and loaders in addition to chainsaws, loppers, pruning saws, and rakes.

The larger debris gets piled up to be loaded into large dump trucks and hauled to the park boneyard.

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The lesser debris is fed into a chipper, thereby speeding up the circle of life by feeding the forest back to itself as mulch.  We learned a lot thanks to our park service partners.

Although there always seems to be a chipper operating in my urban-forested neighborhood, I never gave them much thought.  Now I know they’re driven by a giant flywheel and grinders capable of crunching 15-inch logs with ease!  We even learned how to clear jams and reset them.  Hearing protection is mandatory.  Them suckers is loud!!!

While PATC volunteers were helping in other areas of the park, the North District Hoodlums answered the call in their home territory.  I think the park expected that we would have only enough to help feed the chipper.

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We beat that expectation and divided ourselves up into two groups, one to stuff the chipper and the other to clear the area around the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center followed by work on the drive.

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By lunch time, the chipping was nearly done.  We decided to finish chipping and then join forces for the remainder of the day.

As you can see, it’s tedious work.

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As the day ended, your enthusiastic volunteers dragged their tired butts back to the rendezvous point.  We finished chipping the first four miles of Skyline from Front Royal to Dickey Ridge.  We cleared the drive four more miles beyond, nearly to mile post 9.

This blog is written to offer insight into what goes on behind the scenes.  This was another peek.  Judging by what’s left and the potential damage of today’s bomb cyclone storm, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Thanks to Wayne Limberg, Cindy Ardecki, Justin Corddry, Dan Hippe, Tom Moran and our National Park Service colleagues.  They supplied good company, shared some of these photos and and cared enough to volunteer their time and expertise.

Sisu

Digital Fitness. There’s an app for that.

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Home gym.

Home Gym, November 26, 2022 — Being in shape has been a lifelong priority.  Fitness itself is not the primary objective.  Instead, being in shape is a means to a higher quality of life and an open invitation to activities denied those who have gone to seed, especially at my age.

I doubt it will extend my life my much, if at all.  I do think it immeasurably improves quality of life and experience.

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Being fit allows me to hike hundreds of miles with far younger people as a peer, not an elder for whom they have to stop and wait.  While we can find meaningful trail work for almost any level of fitness, the fit folks can do the good stuff – carry heavy tools on strenuous approach marches, work with big rocks and heavy timber,  and schlep chainsaws up and over the mountain du jour.

It truly makes a difference when you can run with the big dogs.

This spring, the balloon popped.  The personal training gym franchise for which I was a loyal customer for 16 years, changed ownership. The previous owner was a bodybuilder/gym rat first and a business owner second.  As a West Point grad, we bonded over our mutual military service.  When he sold, I understood, but was disappointed nevertheless.

The new owner was friendly enough, but was also a newly minted mid-life MBA.  He was amassing a collection of gyms in several states.  For him, it was all about the dollars, and my opinion, very little about sense.  I girded my loins for Mr. Finance.

As I anticipated, he raised my rate.  I was heavily discounted for a couple of reasons, including as one who paid well in advance.  Cash is king in a small business.  Customers who give you interest-free money are the ones to love.

Love wasn’t exactly the new owner’s approach.

A little TLC would have gone a long way toward winning me over. He could have simply said to me, “Hey bro. Thanks for the free classes and hikes you led and for paying so far in advance, but costs are increasing dramatically.  I’ve gotta make payroll, insurance and rent.  In appreciation for your loyalty, I’m going to give you the best deal I can.”

I could afford the new rates.  Instead the sterility of the transaction turned me off.  I kept thinking the rate increase would be the first of many until he got me paying the full non-discounted amount.

So I quit. Now what?

The new terms were still reasonable.  It’s not like I could find a better deal somewhere else.  Individual personal training is priceless and rightfully expensive.  Group training is near worthless, for me anyways, so I thought I try one of the new apps.

There’s also a twist.

During the pandemic, we trained virtually via Zoom.  I decided to push myself hard and dramatically increased the amount of weight I could lift.  My then personal trainer, Sam, did an excellent job coaching me as I improved.

Secret:  I have hated the weight room my entire athletic life.  Weights can make you humble.  They can bring you to your knees and turn your limbs to jelly.  Their ultimate revenge can put you either on your ass, or in the driver’s seat of the porcelain bus.  That “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” is a profoundly true statement.  Weights can exact revenge far faster than sprinting suicides. (Wind sprints for older folk.)

Father time also weighed in.  As one ages, connective tissue becomes less elastic.  We become far less flexible.  Pushing the weight led to tendonitis almost everywhere and occasional sciatica.  Moreover, during this period, I finally graduated to the medicines commonly prescribed for people my age.  Among them statins, to lower cholesterol, can have some nasty side effects.

Fortunately for me, they were minimal, but added to the tendonitis and some muscle cramping.

Quitting gave me a chance to take a break.  I decided to take the summer off from lifting to recover while I searched for a fitness app that would work for me.

Taking time off isn’t always the best thing to do.  In fitness, there is a concept known as detraining or regression.  When one stops or dramatically reduces exercising, fitness levels drop slowly as fist, then much faster.  In this equation, age is an exponent.  The ability to run five miles can become one mile seemingly over night.  The same applies to strength training or any other strenuous activity.

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The effect was soon noticeable.  When Sam and I were sawing away on this brutal (triple bind) blowdown in October, I noticed that my fitness level had decreased precipitously.  Sam was kind enough not to mention it, but I could not hold my own for the first time ever. I had allowed myself to regress to the mean.  It was embarrassing, but highly motivational.

Now to find the right weight training app.

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During the summer I had messed around with more than a dozen fitness apps.  Then I discovered “Future.”

Future is maladroitly named.  I think it’s founders were thinking it is the future of personal training apps, and I think it is.  The problem is that the name doesn’t suggest much of anything.  The name is certainly not motivational or aspirational.

Hint.  If you’re naming something, start with the audience to which you’re going to sell it.  If you’re the owner, you are not the audience.

Here’s the key that sold me.  Future comes with a real coach.  Remember about my need for accountability?  Found it.  Add the Apple Watch and Apple health app interfaces and you can’t hide, ghost or fake it.  The data tells the truth.

First, about the coach:

Point guard:  LSU women’s basketball team.  Assistant strength and conditioning coach, Auburn University and North Carolina A&T.  M.S. in sport coaching.  There’s much more, but simply put, she’s an athlete’s coach.  We’ve been working well together for a month.

The coach designs the workouts and monitors the data.  After each workout the athlete gets feedback via email or text.  Live Zoom calls occur monthly.  For someone who knows his way around a gym and values motivation and feedback, this is truly an ideal model.  The monthly cost is equal to the weekly cost at the franchise gym.  Sounds like a best value to me.

The process starts with a detailed in-take questionnaire which asks about the equipment you have, goals, experience, physical limitations, exercise style and coaching preferences.  Based on this information, a coach that should fit your style is assigned, but can be changed at anytime.

A 15-minute Zoom coach/client interview with your new coach follows.  We talked about physical limitations, workout design and intensity, frequency and women’s basketball of which I am a huge fan.

There was a lot of trail and error in the first few sessions, but the feedback loop allowed for excellent communication and adjustment.

These screen grabs offer insight into how the app works.

IMG_9889Note interface.  Length of workout.  Equipment list.  Overview is a preview of each exercise.  Settings turns data features on/off.

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I find the overview feature critical.  It allows me to adjust weight or the actual exercise itself before trying to do it in real time. This page shows the warm up for that day’s workout.  Each workout starts with a short pep talk from your coach.  The coach can also add verbal pointers variously along the way.

Each exercise is continuously demonstrated on a video loop that plays until the reps are completed and the client presses the forward button.  Recovery pauses are built in.

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At the end of the workout, clients rate the difficulty and provide feedback to their coach.  You can add a photo to illustrate problematic exercises or other difficulties such as form.

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The stats are amazing.  Dogging workouts:  Busted!

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More info available and the end of each workout session.  In this case the graph shows my level of effort was solid.

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The watch and health apps have even more data such as VO2 uptake, blood oxygen, etc.

So far, the Future App has been an excellent choice.  Four stars.

Sisu

Why I Vote

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Kensington, Maryland, Election Day, 2022 — We’re lucky.  We “walk the vote” at our neighborhood middle school which is a pleasant 10-minute stroll down leafy streets.  Most of the leaves are down now but enough are hanging on to offer a pleasant autumn ambiance.

Neighbors were on the same mission, quietly filing along by ones and twos, some pushing strollers,   A few held hands, walking with a sense of purpose, as they might on their way to schul on Friday evening or church on Sunday morning. 

As voters approached the school entrance, candidate signs decorated the final few yards while campaign reps offered to persuade the undecided. 

The early November breeze was just chilly enough to find the gaps in my puffy jacket.  The chill reminded me of elections past.  Only one other time, in Massachusetts, was walking to vote possible.  Mostly you drive, hope to find a place to park, and line up for your turn.

The American armed forces place a lot of emphasis on its members voting without telling them how to vote.  Having been a military brat and then a career officer, I’ve watched this process since I can remember.  Because most military members are far from home, the effort is all about absentee ballots which must be requested early, making the emphasis on election season seem much longer than in civilian life.

I’ve also served our nation in war and peace.  I know what authoritarian regimes look like.  Along the way, some of my friends have given all and aren’t here to vote, but all of us have sacrificed some to defend that for which we claim to stand.  For me, voting is a continuing duty in honor of those who are no longer with us.  That’s why I do it.

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For some reason, election day here had a pleasant zen of its own.  The people I met were particularly pleasant.  I snapped this on my walk today.  It seemed about right.

Sisu

Loose Ends

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Here and there, October 10, 2022 — Just closing the loose ends. We burned a bunch of firewood and mowed down some pizza at Sara’s farewell this past Saturday.

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Recall from the previous blog that I dropped off Sara and Lane Early at the Mason-Dixon line in the rain so they could hike the 41 AT miles in Maryland.  They finished at their predicted time.  Lane and his wife Colleen have been the caretakers at Blackburn Trail Center all summer.

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Poured some Prosecco to toast Sara’s long service as one of our ridgerunners.  Though my daughter says it’s fake news, she did take cover behind the glass door.  Not sure she had much confidence in my ability to safely pop the cork.

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In the bad luck department, Sara’s dad hit a deer on his way up from Alabama.  He’s supporting her current adventure biking the C&O Canal – about a 250-mile bike trek through history. 

He says it drives ok, but only has one headlight.  Glad he was already thinking of buying a new one.  Meanwhile, he’s driving her van, not his, which is safely stored in my garage until they return.

Next up:  Hoodlums on Saturday with encore appearances.  Stay tuned.

Sisu

Seasons end but the work lives on.

 

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The Appalachian Trail, September 30 and October 2, 2022 — We’re a month early but my final chapter leading our ridgerunners has been written.  Dan Hippe will now keep the flame burning brightly with his capable leadership. 

It was a cold and drippy day as Sara and I climbed up to Annapolis Rock one last time to pack up the caretaker site and secure it for the winter.  The stuff good enough for next year was packed into the tool box while we carted the UV-rotted tarps to the dumpster at Washington Monument State Park. 

Since then, Sara has turned in her radio and keys.  She’s hiking all of Maryland’s 41 miles as this is written.  I picked her up at 5 a.m. in Harpers Ferry where she left her van, and shuttled her to the Mason-Dixon Line for a 6:15 a.m. pre-dawn start.  She expects to finish by 11 p.m. tonight.

My larger role may be changing, but the trail maintenance gig has a long runway in front of it. 

The spring on the AT section Caroline and I jointly maintain in Shenandoah National Park was, for all intents and purposes, dry.  The ground was saturated but the flow was virtually nonexistent.  Tina, my friend of 30 years, Gang of Four hiking group member, and occasional swamper, joined us help remedy the problem.

 

We dug a catchment basin, inserted a 5 ft. length of PVC pipe and anchored in with large rocks. 

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It worked!  Our next Hoodlums work trip is October 16.  We’ll check on it then.

The other reason we were working was to rake and shovel silt out of our waterbars (erosion control structures that direct water off the trail).  Our section is particularly sandy and the waterbars need annual cleaning.

This is hard pick and shovel work. 

We didn’t count the exact number, but we got three quarters of our waterbars cleaned out.  We’ll finish the rest next trip.

Exciting news!  After almost two consecutive years working with the Hoodlums Trail Crew and one year co-maintaining this section, Caroline has a trail name. 

It’s not something trite like “Sweet Caroline.”  Regular readers know that she’s an American/Swiss dual national, so she could have been “Swiss Miss.”  It’s far better than those.

Meet Caroline “Dozer” Egli” ’cause she can move dirt.

Sisu

 

Seasonal Rhythms

Fall

September 22, 2022 — Today is the autumnal equinox, the day Mother Nature begins disrobing.  Ultimately she’ll bare it all.  To my delight, she showed a little ankle on my neighborhood walk today, a bright splash teasing what she has on offer.

So it goes in the world of hiking trails and life in general.  Events happen more or less in order and on schedule – the circle of life’s rhythms and flow.

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If it’s the third weekend in September, it must be the Hoodlums’ annual trail maintenance instructional workshop in Shenandoah National Park.  Thirty folks ranging from raw beginners to the well-experience gather to live an learn.  Picks are swung, fires are made and beer, shall we say, is swallowed.

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This crew repaired part of the Appalachian Trail Caroline and I maintain on the south side of Compton Peak, about 11 miles south of the park’s northern boundary.

Heavy use and heavy weather was taking its toll on a steep traverse.  Eight waterbars (erosion control drainage structures) were torn out and reconstructed.  Rocks were dug out of the tread to smooth it out and make it a bit safer.  It’s good for at least 15 more years.

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Caretaker area at Annapolis Rock – Caroline, Sara and Sierra.

This also is the time when the ridgerunner program shrinks to Maryland only.  We lost Kasey to a family matter, so Sara Leibold shifted from Shenandoah to Maryland to help us out.  She and Sierra will complete the season – my last.  I will miss the interviewing, hiring and hiking with the amazing people – nearly 60 all told – who have graced us with their selfless service to the hiking community.

Caroline let me know that she was thinking of taking a Saturday hike on our section.  Knowing I would be there Monday, I suggested she hike up to Annapolis Rock with me.  Since she and Sara are friends, I thought a two fer would be fun – see Sara and a new place.

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While inspecting the area, eagle-eye Sara spied a spotted lantern fly.  It’s an invasive insect that is wrecking havoc on the region’s fruit orchards.  Did you know that if the jar says Smuckers or Mussleman’s, it probably came from this orchard-rich area?  We made the required report.

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Unfortunately, on the way to the car I noticed this graffiti and the axe blaze on the tree not far from the upper trail to the Pine Knob shelter.  We’ll use Elephant Snot to get ride of it, but why people think vandalizing nature is ok is beyond me.  The rock is sedimentary, the remnant of an ancient sea bed.

Tina, aka “Bulldog”, my friend of nearly 30 years, dating back to our days at the White House, has been my swamper on several trips.  She pitched in again this month.

The rhythmic drumbeat of blowdowns crashing to the forest floor is quickening.  The supply is nearly infinite.  Invasive insects have recently killed the red oaks, ash, and hemlocks.  The chestnuts and elms are long gone.  A native blight is currently attacking white oaks.  Have chainsaw.  Will travel.

I’ll close on a sad note.  We lost Mittens to brain seizures.  He was 15 1/2.  As the alpha cat, he could be a pain.  But, a Formula 1 Ferrari could not compete with the throb of his rhythmic purr. Frank Sinatra’s eyes could not have been bluer.  In fact, I wanted to name him “Frank,” but was overruled by my daughter.  RIP Big Guy!

Sisu

Saw, Dig, Pull

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My view of the Thornton Gap Entry Station

Shenandoah National Park, July 24 – 27 — The North District Crew Week was anything but usual.  For one, we tackled a variety of projects.  For another, I only worked three of the five days.  Now, it’s off to Manitoba to fish with my brother and nephews.

Usually crew week offers the opportunity to partner with the park service trail crews on big projects that are too big for either outfit alone.  This year everybody was everywhere all the time.

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We started with the great blowdown hunt.  While the remainder of the group took on some dirt work, Wayne Limberg and I searched for a tree tangle reported by a hiker on the Shenandoah Hikers Facebook page.  Shall we say it wasn’t where it was alleged to be…

On net we hiked about four miles on our search.  We found it about 200 yards from a trailhead parking lot.  It would have been a cinch if we had started three miles south of the initial reported position.

We managed to chew a lot of wood into sawdust, huge piles of it. 

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In the end, the old guys were bushed.

The next day we rehabbed the AT from trailhead parking south to the Byrd’s Nest 4 connector trail.

My last day was best.  A tree on the AT about 200 yards south of Compton Gap parking became a leaner last year and ended up in a near vertical posture.  This was too dangerous for volunteers to cut.  After consultation we and the park crew agreed that it should be pulled down.  This is how it happened.

Rigging the tree.

Dave Jenkins has a new toy.  It’s a motorized winch.  Beats a grip hoist any day.  But, sometimes things don’t exactly go according to plan.

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Ready to go.

Oh oh!  Nothing is happening.

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Ain’t technology great!  What else.  Check You Tube to find out what you did wrong.

Turns out the rope wasn’t wrapped quite the right way around the capstan.  A couple of twists made all the difference. 

But wait.  There’s more.

The tree had dug itself in.  Nothing a pick mattock could not tackle.

On the way.

One more time.

Boom!

All that for 50 seconds of sawing.

Job done.

Sisu

It was all about firewood

Sara learned to split firewood.

Shenandoah National Park, July 16 – 17, 2022 — Some Hoodlums work weekends are more fun than others.  This one was a blast.

On Saturday we cut firewood for our annual trail maintenance workshop and for use at Indian Run maintenance hut where the Hoodlumns and north district trail maintainers stay when they are going to be out for more than one day.  On Sunday Caroline and I weeded our AT section.

(Call sign) Ridgerunner Two, Sara, met me at a trailhead near where she had camped for the night.  In the cool of the early light I offered the best treat I could think to bring – fresh Apple House doughnuts with hot coffee to sooth ever present craving for a certain flavor doughnut.

We then lumbered down Skyline Dr. to rendezvous with a group of Hoodlums at the Dickey Ridge picnic area.  After everyone arrived, we split into two groups with one working in the area while a third broke for the Indian Run maintenance hut to weed the lawn and access road, and to cut the aforementioned firewood. A third work party met at the Piney Ridge ranger station to work on the AT between Rattlesnake Point and Elk Wallow.

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The question was where to find a sufficient amount of wood.  Part of the answer was on the AT itself where it is on a fire road near the intersection with the Dickey Ridge trail.

We remembered a blowdown that Caroline and I bucked last October.  There are cords worth of wood in that honker, two pick up loads to be exact.  The rest we picked off fire road from Compton parking to the Dickey Ridge/hut access road intersection.

Team effort. 

The wood is left unsplit to deter impromptu fires.  The small wood is locked in the hut.

The Hoodlums gathered for their traditional pot luck at the end of the work day. 

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Following the picnic, Sara, Caroline and I retreated to Indian Run for the evening. 

Let’s just say there was a learning curve in the splitting business.

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Caroline and I modeling our dorky Z 87+ safety glasses after we finished weeding the AT section on Compton that we co-maintain.  Note the vegetable matter on my glasses – and I was sporting a wire shield on my helmet.  Let’s just say that it was hot enough for us to stew in our own sweat.

Sisu

Just in time for the Fourth

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This is the definition of a blowdown.  For perspective, Sara is six feet tall.

Shenandoah and the Washington Nationals Parks, July 1 – 4, 2022 — The month of Hades arrived right on schedule and so did Sara Leibold to pick up her AT ridgerunner duties right where she left off last year.

This tough angel does not fear the month of July in Virginia when it’s hot, hot, hot – and muggy.

We started out with the usual equipment issue and check into White Oak Cabin where Sara checked the log book to see who’d been there since her time last season.  We then adjourned for the first night at Indian Run Maintenance Hut, but not before picking up some pizza in Luray.

Muscleman Dan split some firewood.

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I’ve had to saw my way down the fire road the last three visits.

Before any of this happened, Sara stopped at my house for a special pizza and to pick up the keys she needs at PATC Hq. where she found a shelter log book from 2016 that documents her first night as a ridgerunner.

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Sara loves Apple House doughnuts, a treat from a local eatery.  Dan brought some for breakfast at our first shelter stop and Sara ate even crumbs down to the last grain of sugar.

By now, readers know the drill – break up illegal fire rings, clear brush and disguise campsites that are noncompliant with backcountry regulations.

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Tree crown across the trail.

Clearing the brush.  The reference to Silky is a professional brand of pruning saw.

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Sara notes results.

More necessary drudge.  At least she can claim the views.

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Ridgerunner perk – blackberry milkshakes at Elk Wallow.

While Sara continued her patrol, I enjoyed the Fourth with dear friends and our hapless Nats.

Sisu

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